Authors: J.C. Staudt
“I will most certainly not assault a battle group of that
strength on my own,” Vivian said to Cork Buffner when she came topside.
“Nor would you be wise to, Captain,” said Buffner.
“Keep following them. Go no closer than we are now. Maintain
your pursuit until nightfall, then break off for Kailodos.”
The gigantic airship Misty had stolen was named
Benedict had heard of it, being that there were so few active ships of its size
in existence. He thought he may have even robbed it once or twice. It was a
privateering vessel which, judging by the papers in the captain’s quarters, was
currently in the service of a Roathean trading company called Clemens &
As best Benedict could tell, Misty had come upon the ship
while the bulk of its crew were away on shore leave. How she had dealt with
those remaining and managed to fly the thing on her own, well… that was
anyone’s guess. Benedict hadn’t been able to get a straight answer out of her
on the subject.
“What are we to do with the blasted thing?” Benedict asked
his family and officers while pacing the floor of his cabin.
“Let’s blow it up, Daddy,” Misty offered.
“We may have received a stroke of luck, Commodore… if you
don’t mind me saying so, sir,” said Curtis Cosgrove, back from his stint aboard
is a ship in good standing; well-known,
well-liked, and most importantly, trusted. The
and her convoy
may see us approaching and never suspect a thing until it’s too late.”
to conceal our true intentions, you
say. Hmm. I’ve stolen many things and used them for many ill purposes,
Cosgrove. I’ve never stolen an airship and used it as camouflage. It’s a
dastardly idea. I love it. We’ll have to pull crew from other boats to sail
her. After the attack, we’ll scuttle the thing and leave her derelict
“This may be our ticket to success,” Harold Parsons agreed.
“It’s settled, then,” said Benedict. “Each of the other ships
will donate four crewmembers to the
for today alone. There’s
only one thing left to decide. Whom shall I designate as captain of this
“Why don’t you take the command, Commodore? You deserve it.”
“You’d like to be rid of me, wouldn’t you, Parsons?”
“I didn’t mean it that way, sir, I—”
“Relax, Parsons. I’m pulling your leg. Yes, of course. I must
. That makes you temporary captain of the
Shall we be off then?”
“Aye, sir. I’ve a mind to win myself some Regency gold.”
“There’ll be plenty of that to go round, Parsons. Make it
Misty stamped her foot. “But I want to be the captain,
“Now, poppet. Daddy gave you your own ship to be the captain
“I’m tired of my ship. It’s little, and stupid. I want to
. I found it. I should be in charge of it.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea, my sweet.”
“It is. It’s the best idea.”
“Misty. I’m putting my foot down.”
“I’ll attack the
on my own then. I don’t need
you or any of your stupid boring rules.” Misty flung open the cabin door and
bolted across the deck, slashing the lines holding the two ships together as
she went. She leapt to the
and pushed off.
When Benedict and his men came outside, the hulking
dreadnought was shedding water from its hull as it rose from the Kailodos
“Shall we follow her?” Cosgrove asked.
Benedict sighed. “Let her go. She’ll have half the cannons
armed to fire by the time we’re airborne. I don’t know how she does it
“Does what, sir?”
“Misty is not my least favorite child, Cosgrove. You might
think she is, but I love her just the same as the others. She’s more cunning,
wicked, and shrewd than the rest of the family put together. But I’ll be buggered
if she doesn’t inspire me to try harder every day. I have to, just to keep up
“I see, sir.”
“No, not quite. We’ve no choice but to go through with this
now. We must make ready to shove off at once and hope we arrive at the attack
point before this whole thing goes to rack and ruin. And it’s all thanks to my
lovely daughter, who is never satisfied with failure and doesn’t know the
meaning of defeat.”
“Jonathan, you must come home at once. Mother has never
been this bad before. Last night while I was asleep, she emptied all the
cabinets and started packing everything into boxes. She keeps saying ‘they
can’t put their things here,’ as though our things belong to someone else.”
Jonathan could hear the urgency in his sister’s voice. “I’ve
just arrived on a very important escort mission,” he told her. “I can’t get
away at the moment.”
“You’re always too busy for us anymore,” Winifred said. “I
knew this command would change you, Jon.”
“Winny, that’s not fair. If it were any other circumstance, you
know I’d come running.”
“You haven’t been home since the day you graduated the
academy. Mother is getting worse all the time. I don’t know how much longer I
can handle her like this.”
“Don’t say that, Win. I’m doing everything I can. You’ve been
getting the money I’ve posted, haven’t you?”
“Is that a fair replacement for being here with your mother?
What do you think she’ll remember; letters packed with paper, or the times she
saw your face?”
“Winny. Don’t do this.”
“Make me feel like the worst person in the world.”
“All I’m trying to say is that we miss you.”
“That’s not all it is, Win. If only it were. Sure, I could
take some menial job as a shop assistant in town, but that’s not for me. And
it’s not what’s best for this family. If I could be a sky marshal and be home
all the time, I would.”
“No you wouldn’t. You hate it here. You talk about how
depressing it is; how old everything has gotten. Now everyone’s moved away, and
Mum and I are the only ones left from the old days. The neighborhood is
“Win, I promise I will be home the very second I am able.”
Winifred sighed. It was a sigh Jonathan had become all too
familiar with. The sound of giving up. Of being let down. “Mean it?”
“Mean it,” Jonathan said, and he did.
The Caine fleet was trailing Misty toward the attack
point when a setback presented itself. A different fleet, one larger and
stronger than Benedict’s, appeared a few minutes after they left the safety of
Kailodos and headed out over the ocean. The lookouts alerted their respective
captains, who then all tried to contact the
radio at the same time. The ensuing confusion was so great that by the time
Benedict was able to work out a course of action, the fleet found themselves
Benedict and his crew knew this fleet. They knew it quite
well, in fact. Many of them had served aboard several of its ships in their
younger days. He could see the fires of long-standing rivalry burning in their
eyes, even before the first boarding party arrived on deck. Its centerpiece, a
man who towered above the rest, stepped forward.
“Well. If it isn’t the scurviest first mate a captain could
ever ask for,” said Archibald ‘Greenbeard’ McCracken with a doff of his
“It isn’t,” said Benedict. “I mean—I’m not. I’m a Commodore
now. Anyway, what do you want, Greenbeard? I’m very busy.”
“Gods spank me with a flounder if you ain’t the same old
codger you ever was. Happy birthday, ya salty maggot.” Archibald McCracken
stroked a beard as vibrant as an early spring meadow—and probably, Benedict
suspected, inhabited by as many diminutive arthropods. McCracken was known to
keep a dyer on retainer to ensure he affected such an appearance at all times.
He wrapped Benedict in a tight embrace. “Blow me down, it’s good to see you,
Benedict was suspicious. He had once buried a chest of silver
and returned a few weeks later to find it dug up, emptied, and buried again in
the same place. Greenbeard was the only living soul Benedict had told about the
chest, yet he had vehemently denied taking the silver. Benedict hadn’t trusted
“Are you surprised?” Gertrude’s fingers on Benedict’s elbow
made him jump.
“Criminy, Gertrude. How long have you been standing there?”
“This is your surprise birthday party, Ben. Are you
bewildered with delight?”
“Something like that. Though I would prefer to have been
informed of this surprise in advance. What’s this all about, Archie?”
“It’s about friendship,” said Greenbeard. “Come now, Ben.
Don’t be cross with your old pal Greenbeard.”
“Archie and I have been planning this for months,” said
Gertrude. “We wanted to treat you. After all, a man only turns fifty-three once
in his life.”
“That’s why I’d like to invite you most cordially, along with
your family and crew, aboard my vessel for dinner, drinks, and dancing,
followed by cake and presents,” said Greenbeard. “We’ve decorated the whole
in honor of the event.”
Benedict was no less suspicious than he had been a moment
ago. Was this some trick? Some trap? Had Greenbeard learned of the
voyage and come to distract him so he could make off with the treasure himself?
Benedict turned to Gertrude. “What about Misty?”
“Misty will be fine, darling. It’s not us who should be
worried about her. It’s the rest of the world.”
“Is something amiss with your daughter?” Greenbeard asked.
“She’s run off,” said Benedict. “Seems my children are always
running off these days.”
Gertrude put a comforting hand on her husband’s back.
“Lighten up, Ben. Enjoy yourself for once.”
“But ducky-lumps… there was that… other thing… we were
supposed to be doing today.”
“Really, Ben. You should know better than to schedule other
things on your birthday.”
That was it, then. There was no getting out of this. Benedict
would have to wait for another golden opportunity and hope Misty didn’t do
anything rash in the meantime. He glanced down to make sure he was wearing his
cutlass. “You first, Archie.”
“As the birthday boy wishes,” Greenbeard said with a bow.
When the bearded wonder started toward his vessel, Benedict
leaned over to Curtis Cosgrove. “Be ready for anything. Don’t let him catch you
off your guard.”
“And one more thing. Fetch Xan Janakki from the
I’ve got a job for him.”
was regaled in finery. Streamers ran
from the ceilings. Appetizers were arranged on silver standing trays. There
were even floral arrangements. After sending Xan Janakki ahead of him in line
to test the wine and food for poison, Benedict stood off to one side and observed
the partygoers with hawk-eyed wariness. He didn’t begin to let his guard down
until the chamber quartet began to play and Gertrude took his hand and led him
to the dance floor.
Three hours later, Benedict was several sheets to wind.
“Are you having a lovely time?” Gertrude asked him.
“I’m afraid I am rather intoxicated, my little
crumpet-noodle. So… yes. I’m enjoying myself so much, I may have to turn
fifty-three again next year.”
Gertrude laughed. “I’m so pleased to hear it. You deserve
this, Ben. You really do.”
“Quite the soiree, Dad,” said Junior, sidling up to them.
“Many happy returns on your birthday.”
“Thank you, son. You know, tonight has made me realize how
truly blessed I am. I’m finding more and more that the problem with having so
much is that it can all be taken from you.”
“That’s the benefit of being a pirate, though, isn’t it? If
someone takes your things, you can go steal someone else’s.”
“I’m not talking about
, son. I’m talking about
you. Your mother. Your sisters. There’s no replacement for the ones you love.”
Benedict began to tear up. “Heavens, look at me. Blubbing like a tomfool.”
Gertrude took the wine glass from his hand. “Alright, I think
we’d better slow down. This party has been a welcome diversion for all of us,
but that’s no reason to run off the rails.”
“Wait a minute,” Benedict said, suddenly looking more sober.
“All that rubbish about Duncan Trice feeding our whereabouts to Greenbeard…
that was all so he could find me and throw me a birthday party?”
“You’re a hard man to fool, Ben.”
Benedict looked at his son. “Junior. There’s been a
misunderstanding. You needn’t put out Trice’s tongue after all.”
“I haven’t,” said Junior.
“Do I take that to mean you’ve flagrantly defied my orders?”
“I believe so, Dad.” Junior winced, bracing himself for the
“Jolly good. I dare say, I expected as much.”
Junior was astonished. “You knew I wouldn’t do it?”
“Quiet down, Junior,” said Gertrude. “It looks as though
Archie is getting ready to say a few words.”
With a wave of his hand, Greenbeard silenced the chamber
quartet and the party guests all at once. He stepped onto a flat box at the
front of the room, as if he needed the extra height, and cleared his throat.
“We’ll do presents in a moment. First, I’d like to propose a toast to my dear
friend Benedict. Many of you know him as the former first mate of this very
steamer. But Ben Caine is his own man now. Through the years, he’s achieved
immeasurable success in his own right. So I think it’s only fitting that we
recognize him for his accomplishments. We may be competitors now, in a sense.
But we’ve been through storm and sunshine together; good times, and bad. We had
adventures in the old days that I’ll never forget. We honor you today, Ben, for
the man you once were and the man you’ve become. Salutations, my old friend.
This one’s for you.”
Benedict tensed. He couldn’t explain why, except that he
expected something violent and catastrophic was about to happen.
The partygoers clinked their glasses, gave Benedict congratulatory
glances and handshakes, and began murmuring amongst themselves.